Greetings again from the darkness. Personal views on Politics and Religion are purposefully avoided in my film reviews as I prefer to view the work from the perspective of art and storytelling. Sometimes, however, a film exposes such an injustice that stifling one’s opinions is just not practical. Such is the case with this latest from the brother-sister co-directing and co-writing team of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.
This is the final piece of the creative siblings’ trilogy on Israeli marriage that began with To Take a Wife (2004), and was followed by 7 Days (2008). That’s right, the two characters of husband Elisha (Simon Ebkarian) and wife Viviane (played by director Ronit Elkabetz who was also in the excellent 2007 film The Band’s Visit) have been followed through the stages of marriage, separation, and now divorce court. Only their divorce court is not what most of the world thinks of when we hear that term. In Israel, divorce is not a civil matter, but rather falls under Jewish law and the proceedings are overseen by a triumvirate of rabbinical judges. If that’s not difficult enough to stomach … it’s the husband who holds ALL the power. The husband must agree to grant his wife the divorce. Without his permission, the judges can do nothing and the wife is bound to the marriage.
With the story unfolding almost exclusively in the bleak courtroom, Viviane trudges through delays, no-shows, desperate negotiations, and other time-wasters; only occasionally succumbing to an outburst, rather than her usual quiet dignity. Elisha maintains a seemingly proud and determined look when he does show for hearings, only periodically shooting a look of disgust at his wife. His confidence stems from the power in knowing that grounds for divorce do not include irreconcilable differences. The camera work puts us right in the courtroom and we soon recognize Elisha’s mannerisms as not just passive-aggressive, but also manipulative and misguided. He is not an awful man, but this is an awful marriage.
Long a fan of courtroom dramas, I was mesmerized by the dumbfounding process as well as the stellar performances, excellent script and POV camera work. Ms Elkabetz is terrific as Viviane, and her work is complimented by Mr Ebkarian as her husband, Sasson Gabay as his brother and advocate, and Menashe Noy as her advocate and admirer. The film is a strange blend of hypnotic and infuriating and heart-breaking. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but one we can’t turn away from … especially as Viviane shouts “You don’t see me!” to the judges. Her pleas are the perfect bookend to a film that begins by ignoring her presence in the courtroom (we don’t see her face for the first few minutes).
watch the trailer: